• Sat. Oct 29th, 2022

COVID-19 vaccine: Virus outbreak hits Seychelles despite most of the population being vaccinated

May 15, 2021

The Seychelles can boast that it is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world with over 60 per cent of its population immunised, yet its currently experiencing a full-blown COVID-19 outbreak.The COVID-19 surge is reported to be higher than India’s infection rate on a per capita basis. India recorded close to half of the globe’s coronavirus infection tally at the start of May, with 414,433 new infections and 3920 deaths on May 8 alone.
While countries around the world struggle to get their people vaccinated, including Australia, the island nation’s immunisation record hasn’t been enough to the halt the spread of the virus.
The past month has seen case numbers on the East African island rising dramatically, with more than 2700 active cases recorded, according to figures released on Thursday and reported by CNN.
Of these active cases, 33 per cent have already been fully vaccinated, said Seychelles’ Ministry of Health. Around 20 per cent of those admitted to hospital for treatment were also vaccinated, although none had died, according to the government.
RELATED: Travel bubble ‘very likely’ to be canned
As a result, new restrictions have been placed on its 98,000 residents, including a nationwide curfew from 11pm to 4am.
There are also restrictions on movement and gatherings, with households banned from mixing and all schools closed.
Shops must also close at 7pm, weddings and graduations have been banned, alongside group sporting activities and conferences, and people have been advised to work from home. No more than four people are permitted on beaches and in public places unless for work purposes.
But experts said the outbreak shouldn’t cause concern that the vaccine isn’t working, but instead act as a reminder that even countries with high levels of immunisation can’t drop their guard.
The Seychelles may have gotten itself into hot water after the tourist dependant nation dropped restrictions for most travellers a month ago, reopening its borders and scrapping quarantine.
Tourism accounts for a whopping 72 per cent of the island nation’s GDP, employing more than 30 per cent of the population.
When restrictions were dropped, the nation had fewer than 3800 cases and only 16 deaths as a result of the virus.
This has now shot up to 9184 cases and doubled the amount of deaths to 32, according to Ministry of Health figures.
Surprisingly, the island nation is still open to tourists, with about 500 arriving each day.
RELATED: Quarantine boss quits after bungles
Sylvestre Radegonde, the minister for foreign affairs and tourism, said the virus had likely been lurking in the country but vaccination had made people more complacent with social distancing.
“Over the last few months, after vaccination, people have seen that anybody getting infected is not getting seriously sick, nobody is dying, nobody is getting a lot of complications,” he said. “People have let down their guard.”
Two people are currently in intensive care with the virus, Mr Radegonde added.
“The conclusion is that the vaccines are protecting the people. Those who have been vaccinated are not developing any complications,” he said.
“We remain confident that the vaccines have helped the country. Things would have been worse.”
UK COVID-19 rates rise
The UK has also seen an uptick in cases, causing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to express anxiety about the situation.
For months, cases in the UK have tumbled due to a combination of a successful vaccination program and a long lockdown, which is gradually being wound back.
But in the past few weeks, cases have begun to increase again. Some English towns have seen a doubling of new infections in a week.
Nationally, the seven day moving average of cases, which had been expected to fall beneath 2000 per day, has crept up to 2300 daily new infections.
Britain has been one of the worst affected countries during the pandemic. The UK’s 4 million cases is the seventh highest globally. Almost 130,000 people have died.
How effective are the vaccines?
Yet, Seychelles’ experience backs up evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths, Dr Richard Mihigo, program coordinator for vaccine preventable diseases, at WHO regional office for Africa, told CNN.
“Until everyone is protected, there is no reason why the disease would not continue to spread,” he said.
Vaccine efficacy rates mean about 20 per cent of the population would still be susceptible to the virus, even if they had received the jabs, according to Michael Z. Lin, associate professor of neurobiology and bio-engineering at Stanford University.
“It’s not a surprise if the virus is going to continue infecting some people, the unvaccinated and some breakthrough cases of the vaccine,” he said.
The good news was those who had been vaccinated had a lower chance of being hospitalised, he added.
Cassie Berry, a professor of immunology at Murdoch University in Perth, noted that the situation in the Seychelles wouldn’t necessarily be mirrored worldwide because factors like the brand of vaccine used would be a major influence. For example, Pfizer has an efficacy rate of more than 90 per cent against severe disease.
Although Prof Berry warned people not to wait for a certain vaccine, but just to make sure they are immunised.
“The vaccines have been very effective at preventing death,” she said. “It’s definitely advantageous to take the vaccine you can get, rather than wait for something perfect.”
She added that all countries need to be wary of new variants and transmission.
“We’re all racing to be vaccinated, but we still need to remember social distancing and fresh air and masks are very good at preventing transmission,” she said. “I think it’s going to simmer for quite some time.”
The situation in Australia
Australia’s former deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth has also flagged that Australia should prepare for the return of COVID-19 cases as we gradually re-open our borders.
The infectious disease expert made the bold claim that Australians could not continue to live in a pandemic “eliminationist bunker” and said that the full eradication of the virus was a “false idol,” as reported by Fairfax.
Meanwhile, the Australian government has faced criticism for the slow rollout of its vaccine program.
In January, the government said it was aiming to administer 4 million doses by the end of March and roll out 40 million doses by the end of October, resulting in 20 million adults fully vaccinated.
Yet the targets have not been met and at the current pace of roughly 318,000 doses a week, we can expect to reach the 40 million doses needed to fully vaccinate Australia’s adult population in mid August 2023.
From Monday, Australians aged 50 years and older will be able to receive the AstraZeneca jab at a participating general practice as the federal government picks up the pace to try to get the adult population vaccinated by Christmas.
At least 5.5 million doses of the locally made AstraZeneca vaccine will have been released to the government by the end of this week, with 1 million now being produced each week.
About 1.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered so far in Australia.
People should consider the benefits of vaccination, which include protecting the elderly, making it possible to open up international travel and providing more freedom to move around the community and attend large gatherings.
Recent data from the UK also shows that the AstraZeneca vaccine can reduce transmission by 50 to 60 per cent, which means that if someone is infected, they are 50 per cent less likely to pass it on.
US company Moderna also announced a new supply agreement with Australia for 25 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.
The biotechnology firm said this would include 10 million doses of its jab against the original “ancestral” strain of coronavirus in 2021 and 15 million doses of its variant booster candidate for delivery in 2022.
The agreement is subject to approval of the messenger RNA vaccine and booster candidates by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the company said in a press release.